Anxiety can make it hard to focus on simple daily tasks, let alone write a hit record.
But for New Zealand pop rocker Pip Brown, who goes by the stage name Ladyhawke, it was a conquerable challenge.
Ladyhawke’s self-titled debut record in 2008 made her an international success, spawning five singles and selling 250,000 units in the UK alone.
But the resulting commitments took their toll, both physically and mentally, on the shy star.
“I was like a rabbit in the headlights that had been run over partially,” Brown says.
“So I felt defeated by the headlights at times.”
The singer took a well deserved break and spent 18 months creating her second album, aptly named Anxiety, at her own pace.
“It was a really stressful process making this album,” Brown says.
“But I staggered it across quite a long period of time, so I wouldn’t go insane, and so I got to make the album I really wanted to make – which is the whole point, I guess.”
Article continues after video: Black White & Blue by Ladyhawke.
Though upbeat musically, the lyrics of the album are a window into Brown’s world.
Anxiety is a triumph over its namesake.
“There’s a lot of living inside my own head going on, it’s the theme of the album,” Brown says.
“I sometimes get depressed. I had weeks in between writing the songs, doing nothing, going, [in a mopey voice] ‘So OK, now what do I do?’
“I have terrible anxiety, it’s like it feeds itself.”
Anxiety still contains the shimmering echoes of Brown’s ‘80s influences, like Blondie, Fleetwood Mac and Eurythmics, but is a more guitar-driven, rockier affair than its predecessor.
Musically the songwriter has come full circle.
Brown started playing drums at 11 and later switched to guitar where she played in a hard rock band called Two Lane Blacktop.
Then she wrote and performed in the duo Teenager with Nick Littlemore, of Pnau and Empire of the Sun.
“I’d been writing with Nick for Teenager for a few years, but I didn’t really put my voice to it,” Brown admits.
“I was quite happy playing guitar, contributing my ideas and stepping back.
“I was at Nick’s house one day, and I’d been messing around with music just in my home studio, but always too scared to play it to anybody.
“He heard me singing a song, and rushed in and said, ‘What’s that?’ I was like, ‘It’s just like, you know?’
“I had a Myspace page, calling myself Ladyhawke [after the 1985 movie] with a couple of rough demos up there.
“Nick was like, ‘That’s cool, you should really follow that up. You just need to get in a studio and record it’.
“So we jumped in the car, and he drove me out to his parents’ house, and we recorded that song, which never ended up being anything, but that was the start for me, where he helped me get the confidence.”
As Ladyhawke evolved and caught the ear of record labels and music publishers, Brown was exploring synths and keyboards – a sound that informed her hit songs Back Of The Van, Paris Is Burning and My Delirium.
But to those that knew her earlier rock work, she was a guitarist.
“For years, I was known as the rock chick,” Brown says.
“Because I played the Gibson Explorer guitar, and then I played a [Gibson] Firebird.
“I was always the girl playing heavy guitar and doing solos – you know, like, off to the side [of stage].
“I always came from a rocky [musical] background.
“As a teenager I was discovering lots of guitar music – heavier stuff, like Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins – I must’ve been about 15, it just blew my mind!
“Around the same time, I got Radiohead’s The Bends, and I was obsessed with Metallica’s Black Album, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana.
“Then at 16, I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and all the older stuff.”
For her new album Brown rejoined producer and musician Pascal Gabriel, who she worked with on Ladyhawke.
Littlemore and Gabriel’s encouragement have been a big confidence boost.
“[Gabriel] just liked the demos that he heard, and we ended up doing half of the first album together,” Brown explains.
“That’s how everything got started, [Littlemore and Gabriel] obviously saw something, believed in me, and really pushed me to do it.
“I knew I had the ability to write the songs, but I didn’t know if I had the confidence to put myself out there.”
On Anxiety Brown takes a further step into the spotlight and plays most of the instruments.
“I was always a drummer first and foremost,” Brown says.
“But I only played drums on one track on the first album [Back Of The Van].
“This time I played pretty much all the instruments – drums, bass, guitar.
“Pascal did all the synths and keyboards, except for one track where I played the piano.
“I wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and we did the music [and arrangements] together.”
Brown feels the resulting record suits her musical tastes – a sexy blend of melodic hooks and buzzing guitar.
“Most of the rock stuff I love is really poppy, whatever little niche in the rock world it sits in,” Brown says.
“As heavy as Billy Corgan’s [of Smashing Pumpkins] stuff was, he knew how to write a good pop song – just good tunes you can sing along with.”
# Ladyhawke performs at the Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, on Thursday, July 19.
Tickets selling fast through Moshtix.
Anxiety is out now through Modular/Universal.